I can see the call to complexity in my own painting where I think I need to do more, add more, to make a painting better. Many artists will tell you how hard it is to know when to stop, how many a painting has been ruined by adding one more thing. How daring is the Zen enso, just a simple brush stroke on a white piece of paper. How many of us are confident enough to think that a single brush stroke on a piece of paper will suffice?
In my mind Zen is the very essence of simplicity, just sitting, facing the wall. Think enso as mentioned above, think tea ceremony, ikebana, bonsai. Think of a temple with its sparse decor. Think wabi sabi, the beauty of the old and worn (ah there is hope for us yet. Forget the botox we're wabi sabi.)
In a strange way I think we crave simplicity as our world gets full and busy and complex. Perhaps it is simply the inclinations for the pendulum to swing to the other side? Perhaps by nature humans really thrive in a simple environment? The modern urban environment buries us in an endless outpouring of sound and images and tastes until we're left feeling a bit numb and overwhelmed. We are left swimming in a sea of clutter and chaos, tired and confused. And so the images and ideas of Zen are cleverly appropriated by admen and flashed at us in the hopes that we will buy one more thing to simplify our lives. We might even want to leaf through a magazine called "Real Simple" to see all the things we need to make our lives simple, closet organizers and green tea and bath salts, and, and and.
But what is simplicity, really? Why would we be interested in it? And how do we create it in our lives? Is it less stuff, less work, is it just the opposite of more? I think Philip Kapleau beautifully answers these questions in "Three Pillars of Zen" when he says: "To squander is to destroy. To treat things with reverence and gratitude, according to their nature and purpose, is to affirm their value and life, a life in which we are all equally rooted. Wastefulness is a measure of .. our alienation from all things. from their Buddha-nature, from their essential unity with us".
So if part of simplicity is living with less it means we get to work with our attachments, which according to Buddhism is the cause of our suffering. Do I really need that thing, that thought? Why do I think I need that? Perhaps embracing simplicity calls for us to live more deeply, to savour, to be more conscious and thoughtful of what we do and say and think. It sounds to me that it may be simple but not necessarily easy.